June 14, 2013

Wichita district to change way elementary students get lunch

Wichita elementary schools this fall will change the way they serve lunches, giving students more choices about what goes on their trays.

Wichita elementary schools this fall will change the way they serve lunches, giving students more choices about what goes on their trays.

As part of that change, the district is restructuring its food service staff – eliminating several positions and requiring 169 cafeteria workers to reapply for about 152 open positions.

“As we looked at how to make this transition, we realized we’d have to look at the way we structure our labor,” said Vicki Hoffman, nutrition services director for the district.

“We need people in different positions working different times of day, perhaps some working more hours than they did. … So we looked at the group as a whole and made some changes.”

At a meeting last month, district officials told employees classified as Food Service Aide I that their positions were being eliminated.

Those 169 workers can apply for 74 remaining Food Service Aide I positions or higher-paying positions that require a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, Hoffman said. About 20 new positions will be “floaters,” who may work at any school within a certain area of the district, filling vacant positions or covering for absences, she said.

This fall, the district plans to implement a self-serve strategy intended to encourage elementary children to eat more fruits and vegetables and cut down on food waste.

Over the past year, many lunchroom supervisors said new federal regulations that require increased servings of fruits and vegetables led to more food being thrown away – especially at elementary schools, where youngsters were served fruits and vegetables whether they wanted them or not.

This fall, Wichita elementaries will let students choose pre-portioned servings of fruits and veggies – some fresh, some canned, some cooked.

Self-serve pilot programs at three Wichita elementary schools last year illustrated that “when students are allowed to make choices about their fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to consume them,” Hoffman said.

Wichita used the self-serve option at middle schools and high schools last school year but didn’t at elementaries because younger children can take too long choosing and delay the serving line, she said.

Pilot programs at Gardiner, Cloud and Clark elementaries enabled officials to design faster self-serve lunch lines, she said, which required fewer cafeteria workers to fill trays assembly-line-style during lunch.

The district likely will save money with the food service restructuring, Hoffman said, but that wasn’t the primary goal.

“This is really about improving the way we serve meals to reduce waste,” she said. “It’s a great change for kids.”

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